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3rd NIST Workshop on Disaster Resilience

Good morning. My name is Howard Harary, and I am the director of the Engineering Laboratory at NIST, and I'm happy to be the sponsor of this 3rd NIST Workshop on Disaster Resilience. Welcome!

It is altogether fitting that we hold the workshop here in Norman, Oklahoma. This part of the country is all too familiar with extreme weather—in particular, tornadoes—and the devastation and disruption that such events can cause in a community.

As many of us are well aware, the city of Moore, Oklahoma, not far from here, was struck by an EF5 tornado in 2013. And Joplin, Missouri, was the site of the deadliest tornado since record keeping began in 1950. We will hear from representatives of both cities later today.

Norman is also the home to the National Weather Service's Weather Forecast Center and the National Severe Storms Laboratory. Many of you will have the opportunity to tour these facilities tomorrow.

And Oklahoma City suffered a tragic man-made disaster in 1995 when the Alfred P. Murrah building was bombed.

So, the topic of disaster resilience is of great interest to this region. And it is also of great national significance.

In 2011—the latest year for which we have complete data—there were 14 weather and climate-related events that each caused more than $1 billion in damages. Total property damage exceeded $55 billion. These events included tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, heat waves, droughts, blizzards, and other severe weather.

The following year, Superstorm Sandy caused more than $65 billion in damages and economic losses.

So I'm sure we can all agree that it's high time that we all work together towards reducing the impact of natural and man-made hazards—in terms of both the cost and the time to recover.

And as we do that, we also need to account for the changes in hazard exposure from climate change. It is no longer sufficient to build based on historical hazard exposure. The environment is changing. We must build—and if necessary rebuild—based on the projected exposure during the life of a facility.

And as much as resilience is a matter of protecting lives and property, it is also a matter of rapidly restoring the ability of our communities to return to normality following a disruptive event. To keep our businesses in business, and to keep our workers productively employed.

The better prepared that our communities are to face, mitigate, and recover from a natural or man-made disaster, the more resilient and desirable those communities are to current—as well as prospective—residents and businesses. Investments in making communities more resilient to disasters are truly investments in their futures. So, resilience is also about the continued competitiveness of business and industry across the nation.

The Administration has made adaptation to climate change a priority, and the President's Climate Action Plan, released last summer, outlines the actions the federal government is taking to address the effects of climate change. The plan highlights the need to make our nation's communities better prepared to adapt to changing climate conditions, and to withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions.

Many federal agencies are working on resilience, and I'm pleased to see that a number of them are represented here today, along with those from academia, industry, and state and local governments. As one of these federal agencies, the Department of Commerce has made resilience a high priority. The Secretary of Commerce included resilience in the Department's strategic plan.

In this context, our colleagues at NOAA have been active on many fronts, including Weather-Ready Nation, coastal resilience, as well as improved warnings for severe weather. The Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration is also engaged, a natural connection given their role in supporting economic development in communities.

So, in the end, what are we trying to accomplish here?

We are focused on the notion that planning for resilience centers on the social functions that sustain a community, and the role that the built environment—buildings and infrastructure—play in supporting those functions. Social functions include government, business, industry, and everyday lives of individual citizens. Performance of the built environment for resilience requires understanding the interdependencies that exist among buildings and infrastructure systems, the importance of the buildings and infrastructure to the social function of the community, and when these functions must be restored to support recovery.

Currently, there are no generally accepted, science-based means to assess and achieve these objectives, although there is excellent work being done within the federal government, academia, and at the state and local level to advance resilience concepts.

The NIST initiative that we're here to advance today, will address these issues by providing

an overall framework for disaster resilience, guidance to achieve the goals established in the framework, science-based tools to assess resilience at the community scale, and economics-based tools to support decision making at the community level, all together aimed at  enhancing community resilience.

To accomplish this, we need your help as community resilience stakeholders.

The first component of our initiative is the development of the Disaster Resilience Framework. This framework is being informed by a series of stakeholder workshops. You're here at the third one today. As we progress, working drafts of the framework are being posted on our website, and your comments are welcomed at any time. I hope you've had a chance to review our progress so far.

In the long term, there is the opportunity to participate in the Disaster Resilience Standards Panel. This will be a stakeholder organization that further develops the framework, and also develops model resilience guidelines. The planning for the formation of the Disaster Resilience Standards Panel has already begun, and in one of the breakouts, we will discuss the panel's form and how it should be organized.

In parallel with this effort, we are also embarking on a research program to develop models to assess the effects of disruptive events on buildings and infrastructure and the social systems they support. We will develop science-based tools to assess resilience at the community scale and economics-based tools to assist decision-makers in planning investments to enhance resilience.

NIST is augmenting the expertise of its team with a number of Disaster Resilience Fellows. These fellows will play a key role in supporting the creation of the draft Disaster Resilience Framework. A second group of fellows, following on next year, will support the research program.

Recently, NIST closed the application period for a Federal Funding Opportunity for a new Disaster Resilience Center of Excellence. The general idea of these centers is to quickly augment the depth and breadth of NIST's capacity and capability in areas of national importance. This Disaster Resilience Center will be a $4 million per year effort lasting five years, with an option to extend for another five years. The new Disaster Resilience Center will focus on three research topics: a Computational Modeling Environment for Community Resilience, Data Management Tools for Community Resilience Systems, and Resilience Data Architecture Validation Studies. Proposals are now being reviewed.

This is an exciting time to be working on a topic so critical to our Nation's future. And stakeholder input is vital to the development of a really effective framework. Stakeholder input is critical as we begin to think about moving from framework development to implementation. We need to make sure that the needs and views of all parts of our communities are reflected in this work.

We know how important this challenge is, how much difference it can make in helping communities to protect themselves, and to add value. That's why we truly appreciate your willingness to invest the time, effort, and resources to join us today.

We had been hoping for a larger turnout at this workshop, similar to the numbers of participants at our previous workshops. The fact that we are not bursting at the seams is a reminder of the difficulty of our task in gaining greater awareness, appreciation, and support, when there are so many demands on potential participants. But that actually makes the contributions that you will make here that much more significant.

Before we finish our work at this workshop, we will be asking for your help in another way—in identifying colleagues and peers across the country, across sectors and organizations, so that we can reach out to them as this project moves forward. That will greatly assist us in engaging a strong cohort and in developing a robust framework. And we'd also appreciate your sharing with others information about the framework's development and its importance.

I wish you all a very productive workshop, and I look forward to working with all of you in this important effort.

Thanks, and let's GET TO WORK!

Created November 3, 2014, Updated October 4, 2016